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Secom 45 Years of Parking Innovation

April 28, 2021

John Van Horn

“From the beginning, over 45 years ago, we felt that the system in a garage had to be online, and frankly, if it went down, it went down. We have never believed that offline works at all. It was rough sledding in the beginning trying to convince customers that there was a better way.” Thus Ted Burton, one of the co founders of Secom International, described his company’s philosophy.


“Our roots are in banking, and we believed that if the system wasn’t up and running with central control, it wasn’t meeting the requirements needed to collect all the money in a parking facility. By forcing the system to be up all the time, we had to develop a rock solid technology. This motivated the customer to ensure that if it went down, procedures were in place to fix it asap. Running in an offline mode simply didn’t cut it.


“Those were the days when you didn’t mention the word ‘computer’ and parking in the same breath. We called the central computer a ‘controller’. People seemed to take better to that idea. “


Secom began in Burton’s back bedroom, then graduated to his garage. Their first offices were above a donut shop in the Westchester area of Los Angeles. Three years later they moved to a location around the corner where they stayed for four decades. “Forbes magazine did a story on Neutrogena and said they were located in a ‘seedy backwater’ near LAX. We realized they were talking about us,” Burton laughed. “Neutrogena was next door.”


Burton and his crew built everything in their new factory. They bent steel and created gates and housings. They had pick and place machines and manufactured circuit boards from the drawings out. They had printing presses and produced their own brand of access card. “We found painting the products and dealing with the EPA too daunting, so we switched to stainless steel.” 


“Causing a computer to compute the fees in a garage isn’t easy. Often we would call in the owner, operator, and one of the lane attendants in to our office and give them an entry time and exit time and ask them what the fee would be. We would get three different answers. Unfortunately, computers don’t work that way. We would then keep the discussion going until we all agreed, and then begin to write the software to make it happen.”


“For that reason, we didn’t allow the end user to make rate changes. They would send them to us and we would send out the changes. In more than one situation, a garage manager would make changes, send them to us, and before we made the change, we got the OK from his boss. And more than once, it was discovered that the ‘change’ was to line his pockets, not the location’s.”


We asked questions that had never been considered before. For instance, do you know the difference between a ‘continuous’ and ‘turn around’ grace period? The answer can make tens of thousands of dollars difference in a parking facilities revenue.


Programs that seem ordinary in parking garages today, had to be invented when Secom set out to solve an owner’s problems. Features like antipassback showing the card’s last use, positive posting, nesting, and the ability to provide an unlimited number of access cards to a tenant, but limit the number that could be used at any one time, are but a few of the features that found their beginnings in Secom’s software labs.


“Once a tenant used his maximum, the next card from that group would be turned into a debit card and the tenant would be billed at the daily rate for that and subsequent cards used. Think of the possibilities.”


The decades that followed brought credit card payment in lane, parking inventory, license plate recognition, pay on foot machines, and a myriad of other features that have made the lives of parkers and those who run parking facilities easier and more efficient. 


The expansion of LAX forced the company to move and they relocated ten miles away in the Southern California community of Gardena. “It was a wrenching time for us, but we are becoming more comfortable in our new home,” Burton added. “We are looking to the next 45 years. The newest innovation is on the horizon.”


 


John Van Horn is editor of Parking Today. He can be reached at jvh@parkingtoday.com



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